by Jack Diablo
Our variety and abundance of music festivals bring more than great music, art and good food. One of the really special things that many many of these events provide is much needed funding to local charities. Through the generosity of the organizations and their dedicated staff and volunteers, music events raise thousands of needed dollars help support everything from butterflies to migrant farm workers. Lions Club charities benefit from The 29th Annual Lions Club Seafood Festival. A portion of St. Augustine Sunrise Rotary’s Rhythm and Ribs Festival’s proceeds go to a whopping 16 area organizations including the Boys & Girls Clubs, Habitat for Humanity and the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind. The Southern Exposure Festival benefits the Stetson Kennedy foundation. The 15th Annual Flower & Garden Expo along with A Taste of St. Augustine is a fundraiser for EPIC Community Services. A Jacksonville family favorite, Tree Hill Nature Center presents its 9th Annual Butterfly Festival, where proceeds from the festival help Tree Hill promote a three-fold mission of environmental Education, Conservation and Awareness.
With over a hundred bands from every corner of the country, Harvest of Hope Fest 2010 looks to be one of the largest music festivals Northeast Florida has ever seen and an enormous humanitarian effort. And although the lineup boasts everything from national touring acts to up-and-coming local bands, Harvest of Hope is not all about the music. To learn a little more about the defining purpose behind Harvest of Hope Fest, EU went straight to the source. Phil Kellerman started the Harvest of Hope Foundation in 1997 to deliver direct aid to migrant farm workers in need, a cause that he felt was largely unrecognized by a majority of the population.
After years of working with an education program in upstate New York that provided aid to migrant farm workers, Kellerman became involved with the Migrant Educational Hotline, a toll-free number that migrant farmers could call in times of need. It was in this role that he discovered the obstacles and hardships facing this “invisible and impoverished population.” Although funded by the Department of Education, federal funds were not available for emergency financial aid. “I tried to find resources around the country to help these migrant farm workers with the things they were calling about,” explains Phil. “I soon discovered that resources on the local level were limited and almost non-existent.” Frustrated but determined, Kellerman used money inherited from his grandmother to set up and incorporate the Harvest of Hope Foundation.
Since that time, Kellerman has worked hand-in-hand with the people he seeks to help. “I’ve gotten to know some of the families personally and I’ve seen the housing conditions they live in,” says Phil. These hard-working laborers are partly responsible for a majority for the fruits and vegetables grown in this country. They perform jobs that most of us would never even consider for the wages they earn. But despite this, there is little to no federal aid available for them in times of emergency. The Harvest of Hope Foundation seeks to fill in the gaps. “This is my contribution,” Kellerman beams.
The idea to put on a music festival as a fundraiser began when Phil was put in contact with Ryan Murphy of No Idea Records in Gainesville. After meeting with Kellerman, Murphy became involved with a foundation-sponsored literacy program and eventually convinced his friends in the punk band Against Me! to perform in a Harvest of Hope benefit show. Six shows later, the band helped raise $18,000 for the foundation and drummed up enough interest in the cause to support a full-blown festival. The idea began to bear fruit when Kellerman and Murphy teamed up with Ryan Dettra and the St. John’s County Fairgrounds. The rest as they say, is history.
Kellerman sees the festival as a win-win-win situation. “We want the bands to get exposure, we want the people that come to hear good music, and hopefully they’ll learn something about the Harvest of Hope Foundation and where their food comes from,” Kellerman explains. He believes that the “progressive nature” of the festival is a perfect fit for the bands that come to play. “These are bands that play alternative, progressive music that often addresses social issues. Many of these bands, they get it.”
As one who witnessed the inaugural event, I can say with certainty that the first Harvest of Hope Fest was a success. This year, Kellerman and his fellow organizers have even higher hopes. “Now that we have some experience under our belt, I think that we are going to draw an even larger crowd,” says Phil. Large indeed, as last year’s festival attracted over 17,000 attendees from around the world. Also on the agenda is presenting a more in-depth look at the issues that migrant farm workers face. “I think the first year, the kids got an idea of what the foundation does, but this year I think they’ll get a much clearer idea.” And of course, they hope to raise even more money to provide that kind of direct aid that our migrant farmers so desperately need.
The music festival may be the largest and most noticeable fundraiser that the foundation puts on, but according to Kellerman, there are smaller benefits all the time. Individuals and students throw their own functions across the country to fill the coffers of the 35 different funds under the foundation that benefit different geographical areas. “We have a lot of stuff going on. It seems like my brother and I are always going to at least one or two fundraisers a week,” laughs Phil.
Whatever your reason may be for attending the Harvest of Hope Fest at the St. John’s County Fairgrounds on March 12-14, you can rest easy knowing that you are supporting a worthy cause. For more information on the work the foundation is doing and to see a full list of every expenditure, check out the Harvest of Hope Foundation website atwww.harvestofhope.net and to see the full festival lineup, go to www.harvestofhopefest.com.
What's Best About Fests
by Jack Diablo